BY PAUL DUNK
God coming to us at Christmas encapsulates the essence of Christian faith: we don't make ourselves strong and then work our way up to a strong God. The strong God made Himself weak to save the weak, so that in Him - we could be strong.
I've said it a lot this Christmas season and I'm going to put God's grace on repeat here. The babe in the manger provides a striking commentary on God's grace:
We don’t meet God ½ way.
We can’t meet God ½ way.
Christ came all the way.
Susan and I were talking about the Christmas advent the other day when she said something that struck me:
Between Malachi and Matthew you have 400 years of silent nights. Then God wrote Himself into human history by coming as a babe in a manger. When the Christ child cried out, it was God's grace breaking 400 years of silence.
God’s law diagnoses us hopeless without Him. God’s Gospel delivers us from hopelessness & unites us to Him.
Christ's arrival shines a spotlight on the distinct pattern of grace throughout the entire Old Testament:
God continually gives grace to those who don't deserve it - at a time when they seem to least deserve it.
During the time of the prophet Isaiah, God's children had given into their self-ruled hearts and ended up worshipping other gods. They didn't get there overnight any more than we give into our self-ruled hearts overnight, but they got there.
First they looked around at their circumstances and doubted if God was wise or good. Then they doubted His presence. Then they found something else to put on the throne of their hearts to find their hope in.
We can relate. The scriptures read us.
We were created to be lovers & worshippers, so something sits on throne of our hearts. Us humans can't not worship.
In Isaiah 59, God's children are in a free fall into darkness and oppression - and that's when God promises that He will come in grace and offers redemption.
Romans 2 teaches us that God has written His law on our hearts. His law has a job description. It doesn't tell us that we're enough. It tells us we're not. We all wake up in the morning knowing that deep down, in and of ourselves, we’re not enough. We need something.
The end game of the convicting power of God's law is the liberating power of God's gospel. As it turns out, that something we need for our hearts to find rest is actually a Someone. Unless our hearts rest in God, life is a satisfaction marathon with no finish line.
Vogue Magazine interviewed Madonna a number of years back and she was very honest and candid in describing her marathon:
“My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will.”
NFL Quarterback Tom Brady was interviewed by 60 Minutes back in 2015 and shared a similar sentiment with great transparency ...
Brady: “Why do I have 3 Superbowl rings and feel like there has to be more to life than this?”
60 MIN: What’s the answer?
Brady: "I wish I knew.”
What's your "if only"?
Madonna thought 'if only' she could be perpetually interesting and successful, her heart would be satisfied. Brady thought 'if only' he had another Superbowl ring, then his heart would be satisfied. Not only do I appreciate their honesty about the identity treadmill their hearts were running on - I relate to it.
If only more people affirmed my pastoring, my preaching and my writing - then, I'd really be something. Then the sinkhole in my heart from when my dad left that says, 'tell me I'm OK' would get filled in. Just how many more people do I need to affirm me, you ask?
All day errday - MORE.
United to Christ I am no longer a slave to that sin - but it tries to rear it's ugly head in my life on a daily basis. I'm thankful for grace and new mercy every morning because as it turns out, I need it that often.
But enough about me. What's your if only?
What's the one thing you're convinced that God needs to give you so that you can be truly fulfilled? What I am discovering is that the 'if only', that sits on the throne of our hearts will drive us into restless until we confess and dethrone it. That's Isaiah 59, that's me - that's all of us.
Freedom, peace and rest are found in hoping in something bigger.
If we cling to little gods that the economy, the political landscape, someone else's poor choices, or a phone call from a doctor can steal in a moment - our fragile hope leads us into a stressful, fingers crossed life.
If we take a good thing and promote it to be the ultimate thing, we will crush it with the expectations of our worship. It can't bear the weight of being our god and as a result, it will crush us with its inability to satisfy our hearts.
Good news: God’s grace stretches further than our sin.
You'd think that when we fall into that idolatrous state, God would just leave us in our sin, cross His arms and let us die. That however, is the opposite of what He did. He came to us in our sin, stretched out His arms and HE died.
The hope we need must be able to address our biggest, darkest dilemmas and give rest to our souls in the most devastating times of our lives.
The advent season narrows our gaze to focus on a manger in Bethlehem. God comes to give us a hope that's more powerful than a better situation - He makes a way for us to be united to His grace and strength in every situation.
Jesus Christ is called Immanuel, God with us.
We all know that life is not a non-stop stream of hashtag-blessed situations. Therefore, hope that is grounded in having a better situation is fragile. The hope of the gospel is not a better situation. That's too small.
When our hope is in the gospel, our hearts can rest regardless of our circumstances. The gospel is liberating because negative circumstances don't steal our hope - they drive us deeper into it: Immanuel, God with us.
The liberating power of the gospel and the grace of God in our weakness offers us peace while all hell is breaking loose. Joy to the world.
The babe in the manger is God's promise of grace in full view.
The incarnation does not say, 'hope is just around the corner' inviting us to cross our fingers and dream of better circumstances. It says 'hope is here' inviting us into true freedom - never again held hostage by our circumstances.
God's gift of grace in Christ what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Paul is a graduate of Knox Theological Seminary and the founding pastor of KW Redeemer in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. He is an MCO race school graduate, but presently his main hobby is drinking espresso because it's cheaper than fixing cars. Paul and Susan live in Waterloo with their three children.